Chairman of Convention on the Constitution tells Seanad of public interest in project
Tom Arnold says group has received 2,500 submissions and 350,000 visits to the website from 144 countries
Tom Arnold described the Government’s decision to hold the convention as an innovative approach to constitutional reform.
s written in the Constitution despite the cynicism in some public discourse, chairman of the Convention on the Constitution Tom Arnold has said.
In an address to the Seanad on the working of the convention, which holds its final sessions next month, Mr Arnold noted the significant public interest in the project. It received 2,500 submissions, 350,000 visits to the website from 144 countries, and 100 hours of televised live streaming of the seven meetings held since January 13th.
Five reports were produced covering seven of the eight issues with 22 recommendations, and a sixth report dealing with blasphemy would be issued shortly. In next month’s final two sessions the convention would deal with Dáil reform and economic, social and cultural rights.
He said people who engaged with the convention “value and care for their Constitution. Many people would like various changes and are willing to advocate for change.”
He described the Government’s decision to hold the convention as an innovative approach to constitutional reform and it “represented a leap of faith that 100 citizens, 66 chosen as representative of the electoral register, 33 from politics, and an independent chairman could make informed recommendations about what was best for the country and its future”.
There was scepticism about the agenda and the model of deliberative democracy involving citizens and politicians and “there were very few examples of similar initiatives internationally and therefore we would be working through uncharted territory”.
Five principles were adhered to in the running of the convention – openness, fairness, equality of voice, efficiency and collegiality.
Mr Arnold believed the model they operated was perceived as successful, with significant public engagement.
Political engagement was beneficial because politicians contributed to the recommendations and are more likely to support them when the reports are debated in the Oireachtas, he said.
The chairman cautioned that “the timeframe for debating an issue and arriving at conclusions and recommendations over a weekend may be too ambitious for certain complex issues”.
He said “we must remember that many of these issues are new to citizen members and we must allow them develop a sufficient depth of knowledge on the subject matter and a period of reflection to consider the implications of constitutional change”.